“The Power of Harmony” is a title that the Shandong Museum of China chose to conclude this year, making it the slogan of the first edition of the “Jinan International Biennial of Contemporary Art” on December 12, and invited by 378 artists exhibiting more than 500 works.
The demonstration appears as if it is a declared cultural victory by China, while the world prepares to confront a new generation of the Corona virus, as the country – which received a lot of blame for the emergence of the virus in the first place – ends the time of stone and closure.
Not only that, but the museum dedicates an exhibition entitled “The World Awaits Outside” within the biennial, all of its works are inspired by the thought of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in terms of his relationship. In existence, time and the other.
When we talk about existence in 2020, most of the world’s museums have struggled to survive, and the most prominent specialists in this field expected many of them to close their doors forever and declare bankruptcy.
It is true that this economic prophecy has not yet been fulfilled, but the threat remains. In America, for example, this sector (which contributes $ 55 billion annually to the economy) has witnessed unprecedented losses. The American Alliance of Museums conducted a poll recently published by The New York Times, stating that one in every 3 museums in the United States It remains closed due to the pandemic, and most of it has never opened since the initial lockdown in March.
The survey (conducted in the second half of last October) showed that almost a quarter of the museums have 6 months or less of the remaining financial operating reserve, and most of them have enough for a year or less, but the institutions that reopened operate with only a third of their capacity, so more than Half of it laid off a large number of its employees.
The Museum of Jewish History, which was established in 1976 in Philadelphia, has also applied to the court for protection from bankruptcy, especially since the museum faces a large debt due in 2022, worth twice the museum’s annual revenues before the Corona crisis.
In a country like Italy, where museum revenues have a large contribution to national income, the country’s cultural sector is estimated to have lost 3 billion euros so far, and this figure may rise; Especially since the museums that opened for several months after the Covid-19 pandemic receded are closed again now, and the closure may extend initially during the first quarter of 2021.
Many of the world’s museums have survived until now, because for years they have pursued policies of relying on independent events, the contributions and donations of the wealthy, some help from the state, and its huge archive that turned it into materials to be bought and sold, in addition to the legal procedures that allowed museums to sell some of their archaeological holdings.
This brings us to the question of the ability of many Arab museums to withstand if another difficult year passes by them, as they are a sector most of which depends almost entirely on the support of the austere state for the most part.
In Egypt, there are still no official statistics or data revealing the size of the losses in the museums sector, and tourism in general, which constitute approximately 15% of the gross national income.
However, a meeting held by UNESCO last May, which included officials of the museums sector in Egypt and the directors of its most prominent museums, called for the acceleration of the development of a variety of digital tools, including virtual tours, online exhibitions, social media publishing, live broadcasting, online video and electronic ticketing. .
The truth is that most of these matters remained under recommendations. Whoever opens the Grand Egyptian Museum website, for example, who promised since last July to launch virtual services and events, will not find that these promises have materialized, as there are no virtual tours, 3D images, or digital seminars, and this applies. On the main museums in Egypt, such as the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
In Lebanon, the cultural sector suffered several blows, the most recent of which was the Beirut Port explosion last August, which severely damaged galleries and museums, the most prominent of which is the Sursock Museum, and it was announced that its restoration work had recently ended and reopened its doors a few days ago.
With all of this, the 2020 crisis did not prevent the existence of new initiatives of its kind, as it revealed to museums the absence of an archive related to epidemics in their records and wings. Japan’s museums, for example, announced the allocation of wings in them to accelerate the archiving of this stage, and went to people asking them to participate in this Sections with face masks, flyers, photos, clothes, canceled and postponed tickets, and photographs of the victims, because “the current daily life is a piece of history that will be handed over to the future, and because people are forgotten quickly,” as the organizers put it.
But the epidemic was not the only challenge that the museums of the world lived, as these established institutions lived through a different kind of confrontation that began with the outbreak of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in America and the arrival of its effects on the streets of London, and the calls for liberating museums from colonialism and returning many of the possessions that were looted rose. Colonialism to its original countries, and labeled many cultural institutions in Britain, France and America with racism, from universities to publishing houses to official museums.
These accusations can explain the recent trend of official authorities to pay attention to black culture. For example, during the second half of 2020, the British Museum held virtual events and exhibitions celebrating the culture of British people of African descent, absolving it of racism and celebrating the white imperialist legacy, and some of these events even discussed openly and openly the issue of the return of collections and the relationship of the history of African civilizations to human history in general.
What the epidemic has revealed, and the protests against racism and social inequality that have occurred, is a call to think of museums as a material and symbolic force that is highly contested and a locus of authority for central culture.